Pretoria – A 48-year-old Chinese national was arrested at the O.R Tambo International Airport for allegedly smuggling rhino horns which are estimated to value R12.2 million.
According to the Department of Environmental Affairs, the suspect was intercepted after attempting to take a transit flight to Hong Kong on Saturday.
The three rhino horns weigh a total mass of 9.4 kilograms. They were discovered after the suspect’s luggage was screened by border and customs officials.
Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has congratulated the Department’s Environmental Management Inspectorate (Green Scorpions), stationed at O.R Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) working together with Customs, the security company employed by the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), as well as the Directorate For Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) on the arrest.
The Green Scorpions are stationed at a number of ports of entry and exit to increase capability to detect incidents of smuggling of wild specimens, as part of the Department’s Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros approach under implementation since 2014.
The arrest took place on the eve of the opening of the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
“With South Africa being the home to the world’s largest rhino population, naturally all eyes will be on us at CITES COP17 as we discuss the impact of the transnational illicit trade in wildlife on our rhino population,” Minister Molewa said on Monday.
She said the country is currently experiencing a decrease in the rate of rhino poaching, and at the same time an increase in the number of arrests for poaching related offences.
“Slowly but surely our Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros approach is yielding success. We are now getting much better at addressing wildlife crime in a more integrated and coordinated manner,” Minister Molewa said.
The Integrated Strategic approach involves the Department of Environmental Affairs, the South African National Defense Force (SANDF), the South African Police Service (SAPS), South African State Security Agency, Justice and Correctional Services Department, South African National Parks (SANParks), South African Revenue Service (SARS) and provincial conservation agencies.
In the past week, there have been arrests of four Mozambican and two South African suspected rhino poachers in relation to two separate incidents in the Kruger National Park (KNP).
Between 1 January and the end of August 2016 a total of 414 alleged poachers were arrested in South Africa – of which 177 were in the Kruger National Park and 237 in the rest of the country